Posted: 7 May 2011. Updated: 16 April 2015
Video released by Animal Defenders International shows the elephant that appears alongside Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in the film Water for Elephants, being beaten and electric-shocked during training.
Find out more about the timing of the release of footage exposing cruel training of elephants.
Water for Elephants, a romantic drama set in a 1930s animal circus in the USA, stars Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. But the biggest star of the film is 45-year-old Asian elephant Tai, who plays Rosie, supplied by the performing animal supplier Have Trunk Will Travel, of California.
In the film Rosie, played by Tai, is brutally attacked by the circus owner who beats her with a bull hook. But the producers, stars, and trainers have been at pains to stress that Tai was trained with kindness, marshmallows, and positive reinforcement.
Gary Johnson, a founder of Have Trunk Will Travel claimed: “Tai was never hit in any way at all”.
American Humane observed the animal action during filming and said: “We’re here observing prep on Water for Elephants and so we’re here to make sure that everybody knows that not only the action on set but also the prep is humanely done, all these animals have been treated fairly and humanely throughout the entire course of their training.”
However shocking video, filmed at Have Trunk Will Travel in 2005, has been posted online by Animal Defenders International (ADI) after the London premier, that tells a different story.
Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of ADI said: “We were uncomfortable with the message of this film, but the more we saw the repeated assertions that this elephant has been treated with love and affection and never been abused, we realized that we had to get the truth out. The public, the stars and the filmmakers have been duped. This poor elephant was trained to do the very tricks you see in the film by being given electric shocks.”
Kari Johnson, another of the founders of Have Trunk Will Travel has previously stated: “Have Trunk Will Travel has never issued a written endorsement, nor does it condone using electrical devices to discipline and control elephants except in situations where elephant or human safety is at risk.”
Gary Johnson and trainer Joanne Smith appear in the video giving the elephants electric shocks.
ADI are sending copies of the DVD to the film’s stars and makers.
Jan said: “I believe that Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson will be horrified to learn what Tai went through.”
ADI has also contacted American Humane, urging them to re-evaluate how they assess the use of animals in films and the statements being made which effectively endorse the use of performing animals.
Jan said: “There is only so much that can be monitored on set or by visits to suppliers, as we have shown before the actual training goes on in secret. But, as this video shows, the reality is that this elephant was taught the tricks seen in the film by being given electric shocks.
“Animal suffering is never romantic and it is never entertainment. People need to think very carefully before they go and see films with performing animals, especially wild animals like elephants. Our message would have to be that if you care about animals, then don’t go to see films where performing animals appear.”
In April 2011, the last elephant with a British circus, was removed from Bobby Roberts Circus after ADI filmed the horrific abuse of the old elephant in the circus winter quarters. It was one of a series of investigations by ADI of the systematic abuse of circus elephants, most recently the beating of elephants at the Great British Circus in 2009. Anne had also been hired out for television work.